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Super Bowl Ad Draws Controversy

The Super Bowl ad for NJOY e-cigarettes sends the message "Return the Favor, Friends don't let friends smoke!"

This seemingly innocuous idea is arousing discontent among anti-smoking activists, who are maintaining that it "normalizes smoking", according to an op-ed piece in today's New York Post by Jeff Stier, who heads the Risk Analysis Division of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC, where he is a senior fellow, and attorney Gregory Conley, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, and legal affairs advisor to the Consumers Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA).

"It looks like smoking" is a common complaint of those who oppose e-cigarettes, often arguing that their use ought to be banned everywhere that smoking is not permitted, despite the fact that many thousands of users swear that the product has enabled them to quit smoking, precisely because "it looks like smoking". There is a background to this issue: several years ago the courts ruled that NJOY would be allowed to market it's e-cigs without FDA interference, as long as they made no therapeutic claims for the product. Since that time, e-cig companies have found many ways to imply what everybody believes, without coming right out and saying it. Opponents have continued to cavil, complaining that e-cig companies were using the same advertising techniques formerly used by marketers of toxic combustible cigarettes, which are no longer permitted to advertise, techniques like celebrity endorsement. The situation has become further complicated during the last year and a half, now that companies selling lethal cigarettes are also starting to market their own lines of e-cigs: the disease and the cure sold at the same store. What it has come down to is that opponents reject anything that attempts to make the product seem attractive, which is of course the aim of all advertising. A particularly " style="line-height: 1.6em;" target="blank">nasty critique of the new NJOY ad came out on C/NET, written by Chris Matyszczyk, who apparently thinks that snide sarcasm is an adequate substitute for logic and correct information. Only the already convinced could endorse such a hatchet job. Carrie Nation would have approved. Eduardo Garcia took a saner approach on Science of the Time.

The NJOY ad is really quite charming, for anyone without a burr in his or her knickers about e-cigs looking like smoking. It shows a guy "streaking" ('running naked') through a crowded stadium, and then escaping in a friend's getaway vehicle (the earlier version simply showed him wearing a team mascot outfit, and the plot wasn't as clear, since we didn't understand why he needed to escape). Then the friend helps him move house, avoid a barroom brawl, friendly stuff, including throwing away his combustible cigarettes. Finally they are together at a wedding reception, apparently the wedding of the pal who has already quit smoking with e-cigs, and he gives his smoker pal the e-cig being advertised, with a voiceover of the message quoted above. Pretty innocuous stuff, unless the viewer has an irrational and uninformed animus against electronic cigarettes.

"That some e-cigs look, feel and taste somewhat like cigarettes is actually what makes them so appealing to people trying to quit smoking," say Stier and Conley. "Yet if it were up to activist groups, alternatives to cigarette smoking would be entirely unappealing — and therefore ineffective." A link to their op-ed piece has also been posted on this website, the E-Cigarette Forum by CASAA Director Elaine Keller.